Over the past 50 years, students have been up in arms with both the UW administration and the state Legislature over higher and higher tuition rates.
And rightfully so; tuition rates for resident undergraduates have risen over 88 percent in the past four years, and they’re not expected to drop or even stagnate anytime soon. So student leaders advocating on behalf of students have had an easy case to make – the financial barriers to attending the UW are getting exorbitantly high.
Students have pled with administrators to cut costs and find savings opportunities when possible. But interestingly enough, the same student leaders have failed to control their own costs to students and have made the UW more unaffordable all on their own. Over the same period of time, the Services and Activities Fee (SAF) — which funds campus services like Hall Health, the IMA, and the ASUW — has risen 11 percent from $108 per quarter to $120. Similarly, full-time resident students are also now paying a mandatory $76 U-PASS fee as well as an $80 fee to cover the renovation of the HUB and Hall Health, which were both approved by previous student leadership. Once the new Ethnic Cultural Center opens in winter quarter, per-student fees will rise even more, from $80 to $92 quarterly until the bonds are repaid.
When all that is put together, fees have risen 50 percent over the same period of time. Sure, it’s still a small percentage of what the Gerberding brass can increase, but it’s an example of an important tenet of student governance: If students can raise fees to fund more student programming, they will.
It raises an important question: How much should we be spending on student fees? Leave that to the eye of the beholder, though my former ASUW Board of Directors colleague and current SAF chair Joseph Salama has repeatedly told me that his stance this year will be that increased fees must result in increased services for students. But as we’re all scrapping to get by, it becomes harder to justify increasing costs on students for any reason.
Admittedly, the U-PASS fee was for the greater good, seeing as how voluntary fees would have become exorbitant and the program was on the verge of extinction just a few years ago. And sure, the HUB and Hall Health were both aging, though they didn’t unequivocally need to be redone using student dollars.
But the important thing to remember is that regardless of perceived need, the fees were enacted. Blame it on student leaders wanting to improve the campus, cement their legacies, pad their resumes, or whatever other rationale you please, the consequences stay the same — new fees have been consistently added in recent years, and existing fees have been increased, despite shrieks over climbing tuition.
And so arises the paradox of student leadership on campus. Students consistently complain about having to pay more and more, yet they continue to elect leaders who aren’t afraid to raise fees.
So it’s time for student leadership to make the call — either enact a moratorium on increased student fees or find a different talking point when arguing that students are being priced out of an education. And just as importantly, it’s crucial that students understand this point: While we can detest and protest the administration for rashly raising tuition, we should expect our own student leadership to do more with less as well.
Reach columnist Bill Dow at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CORRECTION: This article originally stated the wrong 2008 SAF amount at $112, rather than the correct $108.
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